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Should we feel shame for living a meaningless life? What if it's due not only to factors beyond our control but something like virtue?

I only ask because I'm worried I will never escape the cycle of meaninglessness, with no karma, no morality, no God or superman, nothing except the agony we construct for one another, not even death.

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  • I'd say meaning is to the mind as health is to the body. We need a meaning-cosmology to function, a sense of how we are situated towards the world. A good one, allows us to be effective & motivated. Should we be ashamed of being a couch potato slob with diet incurred diabetes? I don't think so, but we should definitely try to change, eat better, & get some kind of exercise. Not to is a kind of self-harm. For meaning, the 'gym' is surely philosophy, & here you are. But buying a gym membership isn't enough. & in philosophy, you need to read, & defend views.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Aug 18, 2023 at 23:13
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    I recommend this relevant answer: 'What are some philosophical works that explore constructing meaning in life from an agnostic or atheist view?' philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/91010/…
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Aug 18, 2023 at 23:14
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    If all you're constructing is agony, you should probably feel shame for your bad business sense. The market for agony is totally saturated! I recommend constructing some love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and real estate.
    – g s
    Commented Aug 18, 2023 at 23:33
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    Yes, you should feel ashamed. So what now? There are a plethora of philosophers who have commented on a "meaningful life". I doubt you have scratched the surface. I find that research and learning new things is meaningful. You can't be completely meaningless or no one would have responded to your post. Keep looking.
    – user64314
    Commented Aug 19, 2023 at 5:22
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    @legoman. "I am worried I am never going to escape the cycle of meaninglessness" rates a "ha"? Commented Aug 20, 2023 at 1:11

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The concept of meaning is analytically very close to the concept communication. Your words have meaning to me because they transmit something of your ideas, feelings and experiences into my own. There are deeper forms of meaning, like meaningful work, loving relationships, etc. But the essence of meaning is an experience of communication or connectivity between conscious beings.

Should we feel shame for living a meaningless life?

Shame is a useful emotion if and only if it inspires more ethical behavior. So I do not think this question can be answered in the abstract. In what ways, if any, do you make choices towards living a meaningless life? What are the alternatives? If you're not willing to be specific I think this part of your question is impossible to answer.

What if it's due not only to factors beyond our control but something like virtue?

A tendency toward alienation in multiple forms is a characteristic of modern life. This is without a doubt reflective of forces beyond your direct control. But there are many ways you can embrace or resist alienation too. So both things are true.

I only ask because I'm worried I will never escape the cycle of meaninglessness, with no karma, no morality, no God or superman, nothing except the agony we construct for one another, not even death.

You experience meaning to at least some degree, and can choose to construct a moral framework based on that experience, whatever it is. Or you can choose not to. I don't see a cycle here so much as a choice. Morality is not a natural fact but a certain kind of meaning-making process.

You can choose to reject morality, but karma (once you strip away some of the traditional spiritualist baggage commonly associated with the term) is a self-evident fact. Karma is nothing other then the law of cause and effect as it relates to conscious action. Your life has meaning to others if you want it to or not. You can strive to minimize meaning or maximize it. You can make that meaning more positive or more negative. None of this is completely determined by your choices, but your choices do matter to whatever extent they do.

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  • i think you're wrong to imply that Robinson Crusoe had no meaning to his existence whatsoever, but aside from that, you include some relevant views. besides which, we die alone, so if meaning is communicative it only matters to me for a while
    – user67302
    Commented Aug 19, 2023 at 1:16
  • Meaning experienced in solitude is still intersubjective. A solitary person experiences meaning in the world due to memories and other impacts of past communications. When you die you no longer experience meaning, but your life may still have meaning to others
    – Brian Z
    Commented Aug 19, 2023 at 2:29
  • hmm well while a life without other minds ever would be meaningless, i still think you have framed 'meaning' wrong here (though you are welcome to it for yourself, ofc)
    – user67302
    Commented Aug 19, 2023 at 2:32
  • there's a difference between not communicating cos you're hiding form others, and not communicating/living meaningfully because you are isolated etc.. the latter could be a universal flaw in any meaning we may find, i guess
    – user67302
    Commented Aug 19, 2023 at 2:34
  • What is the alternative account of meaning you prefer?
    – Brian Z
    Commented Aug 19, 2023 at 5:33
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If you are an agnostic or a nihilist, it is already difficult to answer any ethical question from a perspective of non-commitment to any philosophy. I mean how can you know if anything is shameful if you believe no truth can be ascertained which is the point of nihilism?

Then you are left with the measures of public opinion or scientific opinion on values. But public opinion even though indispensable in actual life, you can still reckon as a thinker, is not a reliable measure of truth, but you also find yourself in the contradictory situation of not believing in any substantial truth anyway except perhaps that of the mundane life. So I reckon you'll end up conforming to the public opinion or order of the day as a matter of convenience while knowing deep inside it is philosophically arbitrary.

Then you may consult science as a firmer ground for what is right. But then you've learned science mostly concerns tangible things about human life such as physical health not shame or honor, but you'll still find scientists taking pride in their achievements or feeling shame if found wrong or caught plagiarizing stuff.

So you find confirmation that values are indispensable in life but don't find a reliable means of grounding them except in the naturalistic science but you may also find natural science's notions of good and bad and honorable and shameful very narrow.

You may then start to see why in our modern "demystified" world, many world intellectuals turn to reading/writing novels/fiction to find comfort and why the entertainment industry has grown into insane proportions. I mean, the conclusion seems inescapable that some "crazy stuff" has to be out there for us to sustain life. However, religion has a feature of seriousness to its "crazy" claims and a claim of response to man's yearning for "higher" ends, but modern entertainment doesn't pretend that it is anything other than just that: entertainment.

Well, as a peculiar kind of theist, I know there's no easy way out of nihilism for a nihilist or for our nihilistic world for that matter. But I have found a few weeks of diving into the NDEs stories and studies far more productive, emotionally gratifying and intellectually promising, provided that you are not already held back by the belief that "those are hallucinations made by the brain" before having acquainted yourself with them adequately. Engaging some Romantic literature may also help you appreciate a meaningful way of experiencing reality. But I hope these proposals aren't off-topic.

In sum, nihilism is an insecure and contradictory intellectual (non)position leading to emotional insecurity and questionable moral life. You have to find a way out. I only hope my answer didn't come off as judgemental or condescending. Peace!

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  • it came off as AI tbh haha
    – user67302
    Commented Aug 19, 2023 at 5:33
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We should not feel ashamed of living a meaningless life , we should be scared of living a meaningless life. Life is full of suffering. You realise this when a disease like corona or cancer hits you or if you meet an accident and your bones get broken or you become so old that you can not stand up straight or you end up dying and become a corpse or you are so poor that you don’t have something to eat. The purpose of life is to avoid suffering at any cost.

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